The How-To Book and the Self-Help mangle.

It is a core belief of Bible belt spunk that “God helps those who help themselves.”  However, in the current age of increased information, instant access, and excessive specialization, we’ve reached limits to what we can reasonably know or do.  Sometimes, people come to a point at which they don’t really know how to help themselves.  We have begun to live in some sort of wash between consulting expert opinions and not knowing ourselves, a gap that has been marketed to with increasing success.  Don’t know how to balance your life and career?  Get a book.  Feeling stressed or depressed?  Get a book?  Feeling too busy?  Surely you have time to read another book!  Better yet, get a life coach.

But are all instructional materials questionable?  Is that home-bathroom-remodeling book actually bad? And what about every single instruction book ever written ‘for dummies’?  I’m a dummy – I might need one of those some day.  A case in point – this little article about how not to put your foot in your mouth.

I am a champion foot swallower.  From the time I told my friend that her new dye job looked like chunks of Kool Aid, to the time I told my boyfriend’s co-worker I would love to find her less bitchy friends, I’ve always exhibited an extreme understanding of how to jam the whole foot in.  It’s just my nature.  In particular with those people I actually like, I get increasingly harsh.  And dumb.

But reading about what I do wrong or even how I could be a better person isn’t really going to help me change the pattern of my habits, which are naturally hard to break.  What I’d really like is a little more understanding.  Yes, I can be idiotic at times.  And yes, I don’t always have all the answers.  But there is a real disconnect for all of us between the crutches we use to interact with others, and the advice we sometimes need to hear from those around us.  Perhaps once we can listen a little better, wee won’t need to read so much.

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Let’s all learn to relax, and trust the robot.

Despite what we once thought our future would be, and despite consistent technological advances, one area that remains largely blurry is that of robotics.  There are the sophisticated automated machines that do a variety of originally manual factory jobs.  There are the tiny bots build in backyards and beaten against each other for sport on shows like Robot Wars.  There are medical devices and prosthetics that remain attachments, rather than turning us into weird cyborgs.  There are computers capable of running a dozen complex systems and programs.  Yet there is nothing approaching the human world we have envisioned.

There’s no Robocop, no Terminator, no Transformers, no Batman, no Iron Man.  There’s no AIs, no incomprehensible combinations of machine and flesh, no superheroes with technology or even radioactivity to support them, just man, a little more advanced maybe than he once was.  And yet…we still hope.  We hope for something outside our current situation that will reinforce the dignity of man.

The army has for years been searching for a robotic suit that will increase the muscle strength and power of a man.  Can you imagine the impact of shock troops that can lift 500 lbs with average or even skimpy muscle mass?  Most designs have met with complications dealing with reaction times and power drains, but they think they may have come up with something.  The new suit does the appropriate tricks – even letting you recover from stumbling without dying or being incapacitated – and can run on power from a generator, tank, or helicopter.  Despite the political and moral implications of whether or not we should be designing something like this for use in war, there are some potential advantages.  It could be used to help factory workers move goods, or help firefighters carry gear.  Heck, it may even address the current lack of women firefighters – if they can use a suit to lift a ladder, carry people out (or even break through walls?), they don’t need to have the upper body strength of men.  But still, I’m not sure I trust the reasons for the original research.  Sure, it would be useful for toting weapons or repairing fragments of a tank, but visions of angry berserkers in suits leaves me a little cold.